How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off

How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off

At 20, I was 280lbs (20 stone/127kg). I was desperately lonely and hated looking at myself in the mirror – I knew I wasn’t the person looking back. I was regularly insulted by random strangers and didn’t have the confidence to do the things I really wanted to.

Between the ages of 20 and 21, I lost over 8 stone and then went on to lose more – in total, dropping half my body weight – 140lbs (10 stone/ 63kg).

And I’ve kept it off.

I’ve been on a massive journey with my food and body. Through a myriad of diets – including low-fat, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, anti-candida. I’ve juice feasted and fasted – I’ve even water fasted.

That journey has seen me learn what works and what doesn’t work for my body, and come face-to-face with my emotional issues around food.

I’m at a point now where I’m more at peace with the food on my plate than ever. And that’s quite something when I look back at how I used to be. Food is a drug, if that’s your addiction you’ll behave in astounding ways – I remember stealing from my Mum’s purse in order to go buy sweets; taking kg bars of chocolate up to my room and eating them in secret; tip-toeing to the cupboard where the crisps were in order that no-one would hear me take another packet.

Yet now I am able to give my body what it needs and loves every day and maintain a weight I am happy with without ‘restriction’. I even eat food such as cheese that I thought I’d never be able to touch again.

So eighteen years down the weight loss line here’s what I’ve learnt:

How to Lose Weight:

1 – Have a BIG WHY

You must have a reason to lose weight, and it’s got to be a good one. The reason for this is simple – when you’re faced with your food nemesis – chocolate, Doritos, cheese…whatever yours is, you’ve got to have a really compelling reason for choosing not to eat.

You can see how this works with some simple examples: the grandfather who’s been told that if he doesn’t lose some weight he’ll not live to see his grandchildren growing up; the bride who has always dreamt of looking her most gorgeous on her wedding day. These are BIG WHYs – reasons to lose weight – and they give motivation.

What’s yours?

If you think you don’t have one, you are thinking too small. There is a bigger purpose for your life than the one you are living right now and if you can tap into that you will have the motivation to be able to change the things that you don’t like right now.

What are your dreams? What have you always longed to do? If you know you could be and do SO much more – what is it that’s inside you waiting to come out?

If you feel you need some help exploring your passions and getting clarity on your path, your BIG WHY, have a listen to my free Unleash Your Passions, Find Your Path audio training.

2 – Change your habits

We live habitually. The routines, familiarities and rituals that fill our days rule the roost. If you’ve got into habits that don’t serve you around food, when you first start your weight loss journey you’ll need to consciously make an effort to change them.

To begin with, this often requires BIG action in the opposite direction of your habits.

Are you used to eating dessert in the evening? Straight after your dinner, go out for a walk.

Do you like to have that packet of M and M’s to help you through the afternoon at work? At the weekend make up a batch of healthy muffins and take one in with you every day.

Is your after-work treat a glass of wine? Sign up for a dance class instead.

Do you not notice how much you eat in the evening as you are sitting in front of the TV? Lay a place at the dining table and make a ceremony out of your meal.

The initial pain for breaking these habits can be hard. That’s why you’ve got to have a BIG WHY.

Once you are over the hump though, it gets much easier. Trust me, I’ve been through this process and seen it is action in the lives of my clients many times. New habits replace old ones and piece by piece the world we know changes.

3 – Find what works for you

Don’t grab at diets and quick fix solutions. Real, lasting change takes time.

Bear these things in mind:

  • Don’t undereat. When you don’t provide your body with enough calories to sustain itself it holds onto fat tightly as it doesn’t know whether it’ll need stores in the future.
  • Be aware that food intolerances might be playing a part in your weight loss. Many people have wheat and diary intolerances and yet are sustaining themselves on a diet that is made up, to a large proportion of these foods. Food intolerances damaged our body meaning it  cannot extract the nutrients it needs from even the good food we feed it – causing more craving. If you have IBS, feel sluggish, lack energy, or have any type of allergy it could be a food intolerance. Try taking suspect foods out of your diet for a week or two.
  • If in doubt, go for fresh and simple. Unprocessed foods, minimally processed will provide you with optimal nutrients – giving your body what it needs.
  • Get your metabolism up. If you have a low or sluggish metabolism it’ll be hard for your body to use the calories you are giving it.
  • Have food you enjoy. If you make yourself miserable by denying yourself you’ll not be creating sustainable weight loss. Make sure you include foodstuffs you enjoy in your diet.
  • Get involved with your food. There are SO many great healthy recipes online. Get creative in the kitchen.

4 – Find ways to get support/accountability

The more support you have as part of your weight loss journey the easier it will be. Make yourself accountable by writing a food journal online, joining up with a friend and checking in every day, getting a coach or joining a weight loss program.

How to Keep Weight Off

Weight cannot be kept off satisfactorily through discipline. We want to be able to relax and enjoy our lives, not be constantly on guard or pushing ourselves to hit the gym every night.

Here’s my insight on keeping weight off once you’ve lost it:

1 – Always maintain a bigger vision for yourself and your life

Make your life a conscious quest to improve yourself, to be and do more, to fulfil your potential and you won’t regain the weight. Just as you have to have a BIG WHY to lose the weight in the first place you must maintain and develop that vision after you’ve lost weight.

Sometimes, this can be hard.

It means thinking about what you really want, facing truths about yourself and being able to consciously take steps towards it.

What would that mean for you?

Perhaps it’s coming face-to-face with the fact that you don’t want to be in your job and must take brave steps to move out of it? Perhaps it’s leaving certain people behind? Perhaps it’s doing that thing that most scares you?

 2 – Look at your emotional food baggage

Food is not just food. It means SO much more. We all have emotional baggage around food and the clearer you get on this, and the more consciously you hold it in front of you, the easier it will be for you to stay at the weight that’s right for you.

What did food symbolise when you were growing up?

What happened if you left food as a child?

When do you turn to food?

What do certain types of food mean to you?

Journalling or talking with a friend can help here.

Once you are clear on the emotions you carry about your food, stay conscious with them. You can do this by allowing a tiny pause before you reach out to eat, and in that moment, ask yourself, with kindness, ‘What do I really need here? How am I feeling? What needs attention in me?’

3 – Be yourself

Two words that are SO important to being at peace with your food.

Let me explain why.

If you are in a job you hate, after a bad day you are going to come home and, if ice-cream is the thing that makes you feel better, dive into a tub of ice-cream.

If you’re in a relationship that isn’t you, and food’s your drug of choice, when you feel lonely, unheard or unloved you are going to reach for the chocolate.

If you’ve got a passion that wants to be expressed that you’re not expressing, there’ll be an un-spoken-to part of you, and you’ll turn to food to comfort that.

The more true to yourself you can be, the less you’ll abuse food.

If you have something you want to say, find a way to say it. If you want to create, make time to do it. If you have work you want to bring into the world, start taking steps to do it.

4 – Be kind to yourself

Weight loss is not maintained through discipline. Lasting change evolves when we are kind to ourselves. Be patient, have compassion for yourself and your journey.

5 – Don’t obsess about food

Make your life about more than your food. Engage your passions, have fun, do something you love, express yourself. The more you do that the more food can take its rightful balanced place.

Photo by Nathan O’Niens

Alison Ottaway

Alison is the inspiration and guiding light to a generation longing to step out of the mainstream. She is founder of the life-change movement Path Less Trodden – her passionate, yet down-to-earth message being born out of the many successful transformations she's made in her own life. You can find out more about Alison and how you can walk your own Path Less Trodden at http://www.pathlesstrodden.com.

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19 Comments

  1. Alison, Congratulations on your journey to a healthy life. Great tips! I am not a health expert, but over the years I’ve seen people struggle with their weight. Diets are short term fixes and being healthy is a life style change. If anyone wants to be inspired watch the documentary by Joe Cross. It has changed the lives of some personal friends, including mine. You are right that we have to have fun and have a vision. Thanks for sharing and being an inspiration.

    Reply
    • Back then it was that I was in my early 20s, watching all my friends going out and having fun and wanting that too! I wanted to wear a little black dress and turn heads, I wanted to love how I looked, to be proud, to play, flirt and have fun…that’s what being 20 is all about!

      Since then it’s been about living as the biggest version of me as possible…and I have – moving countries, leaving a safe marriage and building a business doing what I love. I now maintain a big why naturally, it’s like living so consciously has made it part of my genes!

      Reply
      • Thanks for sharing that, Alison. I guess we must all find our own reasons and remind ourselves of them whenever we face the choice of exercise or not, eat this or not, etc.

        Reply
  2. Hi Alison,  I like your method of clearly knowing the Big Y as that’s the biggest motivator / support moving forward breaking old habits. Thank you I am going to use it . Regards Kiriti

    Reply
  3. Alison, This is a great article. I love the balance you share of holding both inward and outward perspective. Your advice is so important to health and also applies for many other facets of our lives.
    xox

    Reply
  4. Allison – this is such a wonderful article. I’ve been on a lengthy journey (with MANY ups and downs) related to food, weight, body image and health. I think one of the most powerful messages in your article is that food is like a drug for many people. Just like alcohol, or other substances, food can be addictive (specifically processed foods’ dangerous combo: salt+sugar+fat) and are just like a drug that turns on a dangerous switch in our brains.

    Addictive substances become something many of us turn to for comfort. Some people drink a bottle of wine to erase a rotten day. Some people eat a pint of ice cream. The difficulty in all of this is that alcoholics can abstain from booze but people with food issues still have to eat to survive. So it’s a different learning process.

    The other great lesson you shared is that “Weight cannot be kept off satisfactorily through discipline. ” We need that greater passion/purpose (the Why!), we need support, we need appropriate distractions until healthier actions become habits. Thanks so much for sharing your story and your wisdom!

    Reply
    • You are right that we just can’t ‘abstain’ from food. It is so socially sanctioned and even encouraged (lost count of how many times I heard, ‘oh, go on, one piece won’t harm you’).

      Reply
  5. Hi Alison, Your article covers a lot of information that will help people understand and have a better relationship with food, and it is even more powerful because you are coming from a place of personal experience. Congratulations on conquering your own problems with food and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

    I am fortunate enough to have never had any problems with food, I love food, but have always had a good relationship with it. I am also fortunate that I love exercise and believe that the chemicals that are released in the body when we exercise can increase our self esteem and give us a more positive outlook on life, which must help in our relationship with food.

    Thank you for sharing your insights on achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.

    Reply
  6. This really resonated with me. Food is definitely a coping mechanism for me, especially fatty, starchy foods. Thank you for your perspective and advice.

    Reply
  7. Thanks a lot for sharing. I lost 30 pounds few years ago (and kept it off !) and I truly empathize. Note that I did it mainly through discipline but I would not be surprised that at a subconcious level I followed most of what you recommend.

    Reply
    • Well done, Damien! Discipline is great for changing habits – something that we all need to do to kick-start change, but I totally believe that sustainable change comes from something much deeper. Great that you were able to access that subconsciously; that put you in a powerful position.

      Reply
  8. So well said. Great summation of a huge process of change.

    Reply
  9. Great post. I’ve struggled with an extra 10-20 pounds since I was 30. I’m 50 now with an 8-year-old daughter. I have a reason. But it’s not just weight, it’s overall health that I work toward. I recently caught myself going out to fast food too often again. I’m making some needed changes.

    Reply
    • I might help to really focus in on your reason. What will freeing yourself from that weight mean to you? What will you be able to do with your daughter? What will be different? I find the deeper we get into our why the more motivated we are. Good luck with your journey!

      Reply
  10. Great post. Good advice and tips. And well done on the massive weight loss! Not an easy journey I would imagine, so really well done.

    Reply
  11. Hi Alison,

    I personally agree with you that it takes patience and enjoyment to lose weight. It bothers me when i losing weight but hating to give up the foods i crave. It was not a fun journey since i love eating.

    Only when i started to understand the calories, i practice good eating habits. I manage to lose gradually while enjoying the food i love. i ate healthy foods that i enjoy and in moderate.

    While it is not rocket science when come to losing wait, you do need patience and persistence to last the race.

    I love your wonderful experience in losing weight. 18 years is a long time.

    Thanks for insightful.

    Reply
  12. Good advice. I’m going to take some time & figure out my “Big Why.”

    Reply
  13. Alison,
    Your post is so inspiring to me. In the last 8 months I’ve lost 50lbs. I’m only 15 (turning 16 soon) and body image is HUGE. Before my journey I was always complaining about my weight but never did anything about it. I finally got enough determination to start dieting when I started sophomore year. I was starting fresh at a new school and I wanted to become a better version of myself rather than a new me. So far I’ve managed to keep the weight off and am working on loosing 20 more. You’re completely right, food is a drug. Recently I’ve been “stuck” and needed a pick me up to remember why I’m still enduring this journey and how to get through it. Your post undoubtedly did that for me; so I thank you. I will keep your advice and reflect on the “big why.”

    Reply

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